The time had come. The Gospel had been proclaimed by those who had seen Jesus for many years, and most had gone to their reward. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, remained on earth; he wanted to make sure that later generations would have sufficient knowledge of Jesus so as to believe and be saved.
The Gospel according to John is the fourth book in modern editions of the New Testament. The Gospel does not explicitly identify its author but suggests that its witness comes from “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:23-24). There are strong thematic and literary associations between the Gospel of John and the three letters of John. Irenaeus affirms John’s authorship of the Gospel (Against Heresies 3.11.1); two early surviving papyrus fragments of the New Testament come from John’s Gospel and consider him its author (𝕻66 and 𝕻75, ca. 200). The events described in John take place about 27 to 30/33 CE. There is a divergence of opinion regarding when John would have written the Gospel: some favor an early date in the 60s, others favor a later date ca. 80-95. Scholars suggest it derives from a community writing in the early second century; such contradicts data within the text and is hard to reconcile with an early date for 𝕻52 (ca. 100-150, containing John 18:31-33). John most likely writes his Gospel from Ephesus, recording his testimony regarding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, so that later generations might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and find life in His name (John 20:31).
John’s Gospel is quite unlike the synoptics; it features many more conversations, and despite relatively clear language and presentation it presents many layers and complexities. One can characterize the Gospel according to its seven signs (John 2:1-11, 4:46-54, 5:1-15, 6:5-14, 6:16-24, 9:1-7, 11:1-45) or in terms of three Passovers (John 2:13, 6:4, 11:55). One can also explore John’s Gospel in terms of ministry and geography, particularly in terms of travels to Judea and Jerusalem, as below.
The Gospel begins with a prologue evoking Genesis 1:1-2:3: the Word from the beginning, Creator, God, the testimony of John the Baptist, and Jesus as the Word made flesh (John 1:1-18). John the Baptist testified regarding himself and Jesus at Bethany beyond Jordan; Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael become disciples (John 1:19-51). Jesus, having returned to Galilee, turns water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). Jesus proceeded to go to Jerusalem, cleansing the Temple and testifying regarding His body as the true Temple; many believed in Him, but He did not entrust Himself to them; Jesus discusses the nature of the Kingdom with Nicodemus (John 2:12-3:21). Jesus and John the Baptist are both in Judea, and John the Baptist testified further regarding Jesus’ elevation (John 3:22-4:3). Jesus left Judea, and stopped in Samaria while returning to Galilee, testifying to the Samaritan woman and then the whole village of Sychar (John 4:4-42). Jesus returned to Cana and healed a nobleman’s son in Capernaum (John 4:43-54).
Jesus returned to Jerusalem for a second time and healed a lame man at the pool of Bethesda on the Sabbath; perceiving the disdain of the religious authorities, Jesus testified regarding the Father’s witness, the resurrection to come, and His testimony from Moses (John 5:1-47). Afterwards Jesus returned to Galilee, fed the five thousand, and spoke regarding Himself as the true bread of life; many ate but turned aside at His teaching (John 6:1-71). Jesus more surreptitiously returned to Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles; He proclaimed His witness and the Jews were of a divided mind about Him; having not indicted the woman caught in adultery, Jesus established the witness of Himself and His Father, and many Jews believed until He condemned them as children of the Evil One and identified Himself with YHWH (John 7:1-8:59). Jesus then healed a man born blind; the Pharisees wanted him to give God the glory, but the formerly blind man spoke strongly about what Jesus had done; he saw, yet the Pharisees were blind (John 9:1-41). Jesus then taught the people: He is the good Shepherd; He and the Father are one; they are to recognize the association between Him and the Father; and yet they wish to stone Him and do not believe (John 10:1-39). Jesus then went back to Bethany beyond Jordan, and many believed on Him there (John 10:40-42).
Jesus returned to Judea for the fourth, and final, time to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45); the Pharisees and chief priests made counsel to put Him to death (John 11:46-53). The Passover was at hand, and Jesus reclined at table in Bethany, where Mary the sister of Lazarus anointed Him for burial (John 11:54-12:8). The religious authorities had Lazarus killed (John 12:9-11). Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph; some Greeks would see Jesus; He indicated the hour of His glorification had come; John thus ended his story of Jesus’ ministry by recognizing how few believed in Him and how many wanted the glory from men over glory from God (John 12:12-50). John then focused on the last supper: Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, identified His betrayer, and then attempted to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection and the coming of the Comforter to give them the ability and strength to proclaim their witness (John 13:1-16:33). Jesus then prayed to the Father for the Apostles and all Christians (John 17:1-26). John then related the betrayal, trial, and death of Jesus: the Garden of Gethsemane, the discussion with Pilate, His crucifixion, His death, and the preparations for burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (John 18:1-19:42).
John provides great detail regarding Jesus’ resurrection, vividly narrating Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb, Peter and John’s visit to the tomb, and the revelation of Jesus to Mary; the appearance to the ten; Thomas’ doubts and their satisfaction; such is written so we may believe (John 20:1-31). The Gospel ends with Jesus’ resurrection appearance to some disciples in Galilee, featuring a great haul of fish, Peter’s restoration and call to ministry, and the assurance that John has seen these things, testified to them, and the validity of his witness (John 21:1-25).
The Gospel of John profoundly sets forth Jesus as the Word made flesh, the Son of God. He speaks frequently regarding His relationship with His Father; John’s Christology is extremely high. And yet Jesus is the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, establishing a new creation, offering Himself as the Lamb of God, able to take on a high priestly role as God in the flesh. May we accept the witness of John’s Gospel and believe in Jesus so we may have life in His name!
Ethan R. Longhenry